Nigeru Otoko: Natsume Ono

Luckily for me, my friend M. flew in from Tokyo last week, right before I melt my brain interpreting for Natsume Ono at TCAF this weekend (you should come! Say hi!), and with her came the latest from Ono (released only three short weeks ago!). Which lets me get a sense of the direction of her work before I accompany her to press interviews and fan mobbings. And I have to say, I really wish the fans would be mobbing her about this.

Just a quick look at the cover will tell you that she has something different in store for her readers with Nigero Otoko: almost entirely black with the grey contours of trees pushing out of the gloom, a shadowed man downcast in front. This striking image immediately yanked me away from everything else I’m reading, insisting that this was the book to read now.  

Her style is looser in this story, a sketchbooky thing that made me think of the dirtier lines of est em’s earlier work, like Seduce Me After the Show. I’m used to seeing more controlled, careful lines in Ono’s work. There’s a kind of cleanness to the images in books like Not Simple and even House of Fives Leaves, although that series is clearly headed in the direction of this sketchier style. The way this evolution plays out in Nigeru Otoko had me flipping back pages over and over to let my eyes follow the loose outlines in a different way, draw something new from the images and the words accompanying them.

The words don’t let down either. The story feels like a fairytale, a man and a bear living deep in the woods together away from the world. And Ono frames it as a fairytale, starting the book with a young woman telling two young girls about a bear in the woods that only children can see. If you spend the day with the bear and make it out of the forest, you can become whatever you want. This dialogue is given to us in panels with the girls interspersed with panels of the woman heading into the woods herself, broken-hearted from a failed affair.

The man and the bear and how each of them ended up there is revealed slowly and never fully, so that even by the end, when you know the basics of what happened, there is still space for wondering, musing, daydreaming. The man and the bear are each tragic in their own ways, but it’s not all bleak. In fact, even with the downward charged images, Ono finds a way to squeeze in moments of light and even hope.

And a lot of extraneous details get shoved aside for some stunning panels: the full page of nothing but the tops of black umbrellas, the perfect start to a chapter focused on a funeral and other loss (and which reminded me of the aerial view of the marching soldiers in their broad hats at the beginning of Tsura Tsura Waraji, but pared down to perfection); the wide eyes of the young woman surrounded by empty space, when she first comes across the bear; a young man lost in the forest and in life outlined against the outlines of the trees. I could just flip through this book for days. But the intriguing dreamlike story tying the sketched and evocative images together makes me want to do more than flip. This is one book I’ll be coming back to. And if this is where the evolution of Ono’s style has taken her, I’m already impatient for her next book.

10 thoughts on “Nigeru Otoko: Natsume Ono

  1. I just got mine yesterday and was amazed by the drawings. I was the same with you, very intrigued by the cover and immediately wanted to read it as soon as possible. =P

    I’ve read your latest post. Very nice, please keep on writing!

  2. Pingback: Natsume Ono MMF Archive « Manga Widget

  3. I want to see this one sooo much translated into French or English. Don’t have lots of hope for French since House Of Five Leaves didn’t sell well here. We also have Ristorante Paradiso and Gente in French. But I had to buy Not Simple, La Quinta Camera, Tesoro and Danza in English. Now that Kodansha Comics has published Danza, I hope to see Tsura Tsura Waraji and Coppers in English. But what about Viz Media? I hope Viz will be interested by Nigeru Otoko, which is published by Ohta Shuppan in Japan, as Ristorante Paradiso and Gente….

    Anyway, happy new year🙂.

    • Happy new year to you too! Here’s hoping we both get to read lots more great manga in 2013.

      I would love to see this one translated into English and/or French! It really is my favourite of the work of hers that I’ve read, although I am enjoying Tsura Tsura Waraji too. I don’t think Tsura will make it into English, though. It would need pages of translator’s notes. But then more difficult things have made it into English, so who knows? That’s too bad that House of Five Leaves didn’t do too well in French. I wonder why. Do her other works in French do well?

  4. Nigeru Otoko has been translated into Chinese. I was thinking about it when I went to HK but I did hope to get an English translation and I still hope. Reading Chinese is a real pain in the ass for me. I’m lucky you told me about Tsura Tsura Waraji since it’s also translated in Chinese, but I guessed because of the historical genre that it would be difficult for me.

    House Of Five Leaves, Ristorante Paradiso and Gente all didn’t sell well. Same for Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku, so I guess it will be difficult to get Kino Nani Tabeta translated. I still hope for an English translation, as I bought all of Fumi Yoshinaga’s works in English. We only got All My Darling Daughters and Ooku from Fumi Yoshinaga in French.

    I think Natsume Ono’s works are not so easy to read. The slow pace of the story maybe, or the drawings which are not typically “manga”. Natsume Ono’s style is a bit peculiar and I suppose that’s not what average manga readers would like.

    • Wow! I can’t believe you can read Chinese. That is a tough language! My fingers are crossed that you’ll get an English version so you don’t have to struggle with the Chinese.

      That’s really surprising that Ono’s work and Ooku don’t sell well. I don’t have any numbers, but those books all seem to be pretty popular over here. After all, both authors continue to have new work published in English. You’re right that Ono’s work (and Yoshinaga’s for that matter) is not the average manga fare, but that is of course why we like her, right? But if you’re trying to sell books to the average manga fan, Ono is probably not the best author to publish.

  5. I can read a bit Chinese. The biggest issue with Chinese is the ideograms. I often forget them if I don’t write them down…. And I often don’t. But I can’t read Japanese. As I love Akimi Yoshida’s work, I had to read the most of them in Chinese (only Banana Fish, as in the US, has been translated in French). I can’t read funny manga in Chinese because it does take me a long time. On the opposite, I don’t have problem with action manga such as 7 SEEDS or Kaguya Hime.

    Ooku is not an easy read. It issues only once a year, and people are not into the story anymore. Moreover, there are lots of names and background. It’s one of my favorite, but it can be confusing when you read it once a year xD. I don’t know about the American edition, but the French one is pretty poor: no explanation, no bonus page to get an introduction about the Japanese history. Don’t really know why it does not sell well…

    I’m yet lucky that Fumi Yoshinaga and Natsume Ono’s works are translated in English🙂.

    But Thermae Romae and Brides Stories sell well, it depends of the publisher’s communication I think.

  6. Finally read it in Chinese! And I didn’t have to struggle: lots of silent pages, and it was simpler than I thought. This was amazing and I love her drawing, sketchier as you say in this article. The story was great, and once again, Ono deals with people who have to flee their responsibilities. The drawings, the characters and even the story don’t really “feel” manga like. I felt it closer of indy comics.

    • So good, right? Glad you finally got to share in the joy of this one! It’s definitely one of my favourites of Ono’s work. The art and the story are just so in sync and so lovely. I like your thought on her dealing with people who have to flee their responsibilities. That’s something I’m going to keep in mind when reading her future works. This one definitely feels closer to indy comics though. Not a “manga”-y manga by any means.

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